Beach Rugby in Kuwait
Kuwait City, Kuwait
Today I played beach rugby. Touch rugby. Gentle rugby. Baaaby rugby. Kuwait has a regional rugby team that competes against other teams around the Persian Gulf. For those who are too delicate for the real thing, the Kuwait Hilton Resort offers beach rugby games on Friday afternoons.
This is rugby for the fragile. The games are short, the action is fast, and a touch is as good as tackle. When you have the ball, you run toward the goal until an opposing player touches you with both hands. At that point you hand the ball off to a team mate and play starts again. This can only happen six times before possession is lost. You can pass the ball, of course, but you can’t pass forward, and if your teammate drops the ball, possession goes to the other side.
There are other odd rules, but it’s not a very complex game. With no tackles, scrums, or kicks, it’s not much like real rugby. It’s faster, more graceful, and less brutal. It’s a ton of fun and a hell of a workout.
My first games of rugby didn’t go very well. I went offsides on almost every play (more on that later). I passed the ball in the wrong direction, and I usually passed to the opposing team. I didn’t tackle anyone, but I did step on a little kid. And I took out a lawn chair that was too close to the field. I think I punched a guy in the nose, but I don’t think he noticed. I learned the rules pretty quickly today. Maybe next time I’ll learn how to play the game.
The beach rugby players are almost all British ex-pats, and they’re all ages. There was a group of ten-year-old kids who could have run between the bigger players’ legs, and I met an old referee who had twice as many years as me and three times my speed. On some teams forty years separated the youngest and oldest players. Those youngest and the oldest were the most serious about the game. The baby boomers were anxious to prove they could keep up with the Gen X’ers. And the young kids made up for their lack of size with an abundance of enthusiasm. Once, when a forty-something player neared the goal line, he got a look of desperation. He dashed, heart pounding, joints squealing, and I read his thoughts by the look on his face:
We all cheered for him, except his twelve-year-old defender, who swore he had made a tackle at the two-meter mark.
The beach was a fun place for the western families to spend a sunny day. The pool was filled with children splashing their parents. A lot of people were trying to get a tan and ending up with a burn. Sadly, the beer, barbecues and women that are a standard part of any California beach game were missing from the event. But I guess the only place to find a true California beach game is in California.
By the way, if you’re ever in southern California, go to the beach and challenge someone to a game of Over The Line. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.
The one rugby rule I don’t understand is the rule against interference. Interference is assisting a team mate with the ball by moving between him and the defender. It clears a path for the person with the ball. You tell the defenders, “If you want to get to the ball carrier, you have to get past me.” It’s an essential strategy in almost all team sports. In basketball, it’s called screening, and it helps the ball handler get around a defender and closer to the basket. In American football, it’s called blocking, and the blockers take the tackles that are meant for the carrier. In hockey, soccer, even water polo, the strategy is the same: If your friend has the ball, get between him and his opponent.
In beach rugby, interference is called shepherding, and it’s strictly forbidden. An offensive team mate can’t run in front of the ball carrier. The whole team has to form a line with the carrier in the lead. I guess that forces the ball handler to rely on his own skills, but I think it also removes some of the teamwork. Three team mates moving in a triangle formation could bust through a defensive line with ease. But when interference is illegal, it’s just one man against the entire defending team. The rest of the offense is just running along waiting to catch the ball.
I got whistled for shepherding about every two minutes, and I couldn’t stop doing it. When I’m playing sports, it’s instinctive: If I see someone charging after my friend, I’m going to get in their way. The ref told me to get behind the ball; my team told me to get behind the ball; after a while the spectators were screaming, “Get behind the bloody ball!” But somehow I always found myself in front, solidly between the ball and the defensive line. It’s a Pavlovian response. The bell rings, the dog drools. My mate gets the ball, I run forward. It would take brain surgery to get the reaction out of my head. Fortunately there are players waiting to give me a lobotomy right on the field.
Next Friday I’ll return to the Hilton and charge back onto the sandy field of battle. This time I’ll stay on-sides. I’ll complete my passes. I’ll guard my opponents. I might even tackle a little kid. And I’ll master yet another “beach” sport.